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Global reach of Spain's courts curtailed

Spanish parliament passes law to limit judges from taking cases of torture or war crimes in other countries. Is this a blow for universal justice?

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Spanish courts, the last holdout for trying crimes committed anywhere in the world, will now limit their reach in the wake of a vote in Madrid's lower house of parliament today.

Spain has long been a champion of prosecuting heinous crimes under a concept known as "universal jurisdiction." It brought charges against Osama bin Laden and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile. This spring, a Spanish judge opened an investigation into torture at Guantánamo, including a focus on leading officials within the Bush administration.

But Spain is now following an international legal trend away from allowing national courts to try anyone, anywhere, analysts say. Courts in France, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany have also seen their forays into global justice curtailed.


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